Golf isn't merely a leisure sport. It's the martini lunch of the modern workforce, the buoyant venue where business gets done.
"Think of it as a six-hour sales call," says Bill Storer, a 22-handicapper who ranks as the Ben Hogan of business golf. Just as Hogan had his five fundamentals, Storer, the president of Business Golf Strategies in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, has boiled the game down to a few basics. And unlike the rules of golf, his rules of business golf are relatively simple.
But here's the biggest difference: if everyone follows them, everyone wins.
1. Pick Your Partners Wisely
This isn't the Ryder Cup. You want to play with decision-makers, not the golfers who can shoot the lowest scores.
2. Don't Sandbag or Tank It
It's the most common question, Storer says: to win, or not to win. The answer is: play to your ability, fair and square. Gauge the personality of your partner and determine how intense he or she is about the game. If you decide to play a match, use the handicap system to establish even ground. An intentional "tank job" can be insulting to a potential client. But a flagrant sandbagging can be even worse.
3. Patience is a Virtue
Don't discuss business before the 5th hole or after the 15th hole. Like golf itself, you're in this for the long haul.
4. Play Ready Golf
Par is less important than pace of play. When Storer says that business golf is like a "six-hour sales call," that includes post-round drinks or dinner. Six hours on the course is way too long.
5. Know Thy Partner
Storer calls this the "platinum rule." Don't do unto others as they would do unto you. Treat people as they want to be treated. Pay attention to the personality. If your playing partner is solemn and serious, act accordingly. The same goes if he's a garrulous goofball. Remember: though the course isn't a stage, you're still performing. Just as you get to see them in an informal setting, they get to see you too.
6. Don't Drink
Save the six-packs for weekend outings with your buddies. This is business. Storer tells the story of a sales executive who had a few too many, lost control of his cart and sent his partner from the passenger seat. The potential client soon became a hospital patient, treated for a serious head injury. Long before the bandages came off, a business relationship had been undone.
7. Focus on Results
And by results, we don't mean score. Before the round, think about what you hope to get out of the day, outlining your goals and how you plan to meet them. It's a vital component to business golf, as key to good performance as a pre-shot routine.
8. Play for the 20th Hole
Don't feel like you have to have everything wrapped up by the end of the round. Sign your scorecard before you worry about signing a deal. Your first priority is making sure your playing partner has fun. Spare the formalities, unless they're called for. Storer recommends following up afterward with a thank you letter, a souvenir or other appropriate correspondence that will get you back in front of your customer.